Prevention or cure - the killing choice

AT what stage in its development does a foetus become a child? Or, to put it another way, where is the line that separates wearing a condom from child-killing?

AT what stage in its development does a foetus become a child? Or, to put it another way, where is the line that separates wearing a condom from child-killing?

Few, perhaps, would fail to see the satire in the old Monty Python song Every Sperm Is Sacred.

There are plenty of people, though, who believe that abortion is murder.

There must be something very nice about seeing the world in such simple, black-and-white terms.

Something cosy and convenient, but not very grown-up or intelligent.

On the other hand, while the woman's right to choose provided a neat slogan, there is a danger in the pro-abortion argument too.

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I agree completely with Chester curate Joanna Jepson.

She has won the right to mount a legal challenge against doctors who performed a late abortion to prevent the birth of a child with a cleft palate.

The legal limit for abortions in this country is 24 weeks of pregnancy – except in cases of "serious disability".

And there, of course, lies the rub. The law, as so often, leaves a nice grey area to be argued over. Well, it's good for lawyers to have some fat to chew, isn't it?

So what is a "serious disability"?

Well, a cleft palate isn't, for a start – not according to Joanna Jepson. And she should know, because she grew up with a similar problem herself.

A cleft palate is essentially a gap in the roof of the mouth. According to the Cleft Palate Foundation, "a child born with a cleft frequently requires surgery, orthodontic care and speech therapy over a period of years."

So, a bit of a hassle then. Not something you would choose. But proper health care, says the foundation, should lead to the child's "total rehabilitation".

That proper health care does not include the services of an abortionist.


IT'S not really the done thing for fellow columnists on the same paper to take up newsprint in arguing among themselves. It can be tedious and incestuous and I don't propose to make a habit of it.

But I can't let a remark made last week in these pages by Robert Beaumont go unchallenged.

I don't mean the revelation by a man who claims to have been taxed to within an inch of his life that he can afford private health care and schooling for his family. That is so self-evidently barking that it needs no further comment.

No, I mean his unsupported aside that the abolition of grammar schools was "one of the most destructive pieces of legislation of the 20th century".

No doubt Robert is an old grammar-school boy. As it happens, so am I. But I was lucky enough to transfer late in my school career from an old-fashioned whack-'em-into-line grammar to an excellent comprehensive.

For this reason I don't have the fear of ordinary people (or the opposite sex) that is surely Robert's real reason for backing private against state schooling. It is the common fear of the privileged classes desperate to hang on to their outdated privilege.

Now there were undoubtedly some fine grammar schools, and there are just as surely some lousy comprehensives. From my admittedly second-hand observation, there are both good and bad private schools too.

But what no grammar – or private – school can deliver is the equality of opportunity that comes as standard with a well-run comprehensive system.

There were certainly some mistakes in the way comprehensive schools were brought in. Amalgamating very different schools on two or even three sites was a common nightmare.

But in principle, and in many cases in practice too, the ending of the grammar schools' institutionalised privilege was one of the last century's BEST acts of government.

It was largely the work of the same government that created the Open University. In those days the Labour Party really was the party of education.

The current administration's insistence on charging students university "top-up fees" is a bitter betrayal of that proud tradition.

It is putting education right back where Robert Beaumont and his backward-looking ilk would like it – a privilege to be enjoyed only by those who can afford it.

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